Hu-lin was a little slave girl. She had been sold by her father when she was scarcely more than a baby, and had lived for five years with a number of other children in a wretched houseboat. Her cruel master treated her very badly. He made her go out upon the street, with the other girls he had bought, to beg for a living.
This kind of life was especially hard for Hu-lin. She longed to play in the fields, above which the huge kites were sailing in the air like giant birds. She liked to see the crows and magpies flying hither and thither.
It was great fun to watch them build their stick nests in the tall poplars. But if her master ever caught her idling her time away in this manner he beat her most cruelly and gave her nothing to eat for a whole day. In fact he was so wicked and cruel that all the children called him Black Heart.
Early one morning when Hu-lin was feeling very sad about the way she was treated, she resolved to run away, but, alas! she had not gone more than a hundred yards from the houseboat when she saw Black Heart following her. He caught her, scolded her most dreadfully, and gave her such a beating that she felt too faint to stir.
For several hours she lay on the ground without moving a muscle, moaning as if her heart would break. “Ah! if only someone would save me!” she thought, “how good I would be all the rest of my days!”
Now, not far from the river there lived an old man in a tumble-down shanty. The only companion he had was a goose that watched the gate for him at night and screamed out loudly if any stranger dared to prowl about the place.
Hu-lin and this goose were close friends, and the slave girl often stopped to chat with the wise fowl as she was passing the old man’s cottage. In this way she had learned that the bird’s owner was a miser who kept a great deal of money hidden in his yard. Ch’ang, the goose, had an unusually long neck, and was thus able to pry into most of his master’s affairs. As the fowl had no member of his own family to talk with, he told all he knew to Hu-lin.
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